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whites whites’ scholars united

Polls on racial attitudes in the United States consistently find that whites are more racially tolerant than ever. Respondents indicate they do not care if minorities live in their neighborhoods or if people marry across the color line, and they express support for the principles of integration. However, the same polls also find that whites object to government policies developed to ameliorate the effects of discrimination, such as affirmative action and busing. Furthermore, the data also shows that whites believe racism is no longer a major problem in the United States and that existing racial inequality is the product of the culture and behavior of minorities. The sociologist Eduardo Bonilla-Silva has argued that all this means is that the nature of racial discourse has changed and that there is a new way of expressing prejudicial attitudes, which he calls “color-blind racism.” Colorblind racism is the dominant racial ideology in post–civil rights America, and unlike its predecessor (Jim Crow racism), it is subtle, apparently nonracial, and avoids traditional racist discourse.


Scholars differ in their interpretation and analysis of whites’ racial attitudes in the post–civil rights era. Their explanations can be grouped into four categories: (1) racial optimism, (2) racial pesoptimism, (3) symbolic racism, and (4) group position. Racial optimists , such as Seymour Lipset and Paul Sniderman, believe whites have, in fact, become more racially tolerant, and that their objections to programs such as affirmative action are not racially motivated. Although the views of these scholars are no longer dominant in academia, they are popular among the masses because they resonate with whites’ racial common sense. Racial pesoptimists , best represented by the work of Howard Schuman and his colleagues, believe that the change in whites’ racial attitudes is best understood as a combination of progress and resistance. Although scholars in this tradition acknowledge the resistance of whites to racial change, they are still wedded to the old perspective elaborated by Gunnar Myrdal in his An American Dilemma (1944). Myrdal put forward the idea that whites will overcome their prejudice as soon as they reconcile the facts and realize that discrimination has no place in a truly democratic society.

Symbolic racism scholars, such as David Sears and Donald Kinder, argue instead that whites are still prejudiced, but in a new way that combines a moralistic discourse with antiblack affect. For example, these scholars interpret whites’ opposition to programs such as affirmative action as a symbolic expression of their prejudice. Lastly, scholars advocating the idea of group position , such as Lawrence Bobo and James Kluegel, believe whites’ prejudice is a way to defend white privilege. The defense of group status is done nowadays, according to Bobo, through a “laissez-faire racism” that blames minorities for their inability to improve their economic and social standing. All these approaches, however, share three limitations: (1) They are all fundamentally anchored in the prejudice problematique , (2) they derive their data from surveys and thus cannot fully capture contemporary white discourse, and (3) they are ultimately bounded by their methodological individualism (i.e., their unit of analysis is the individual). Problemátique is a French structuralist term that refers to the limits or boundaries of a concept. Analysts trapped in the “prejudice problematique ,” for example, cannot “see” or accept the structural nature of racial dynamics.

An explanation of whites’ apparently paradoxical attitudes that has gained support is that developed by Eduardo Bonilla-Silva. He argues that whites’ racial views in the post–civil rights era represent a new racial ideology: color-blind racism. Unlike Jim Crow racism, colorblind racism articulates whites’ defense of the racial order in a subtle, apparently nonracial way. It provides tools to talk about race without appearing to be “racist”—a very important matter, given that the normative climate that has crystallized in the United States since the 1960s disavows the open expression of racial views.


Color-blind racism has crystallized as the dominant racial ideology of the United States. Whites no longer need to utter the ugly racial epithets of the past, claim God made whites superior, or argue that minorities are inferior biological beings in order to keep them in a subordinated position. Instead, whites chastise minorities in a color-blind way and, by default, defend their racial privilege in a “now you see it, now you don’t fashion.” Color-blind racism is thus a formidable weapon to maintain white privilege.

Will color-blind racism increase in significance in the twenty-first century, or will Americans realize the continuing impact of racial stratification in their country? The trends, unfortunately, suggest that, if anything, color-blind racism is bound to become even more salient. For one thing, the Supreme Court may eliminate all forms of race-based policies (e.g., Affirmative Action, busing) as “discriminatory in reverse.” Such an outcome will underscore whites’ “we are beyond race” racial common sense. In addition, Congress may stop gathering racial statistics, because gathering them presumably racializes Americans. This will make it all but impossible to document racial gaps in income, education, occupations, and other areas. This would only eliminate racial inequality artificially. Finally, the United States is developing a plural racial order, a development that will further diffuse the salience of race. In the emerging racial order, a middle group of “honorary whites” will buffer racial conflict and become arduous defenders of color-blindness.

Hence, the United States may be on its way to becoming a land of racism without racists, where people formerly known as blacks, Latinos, and Asians will still lag well behind the people formerly known as whites. Yet this inequality, formerly known as racial, will no longer be interpreted as such because Americans will believe, like the character Pangloss in Voltaire’s novel Candide , that they live in the best of all possible worlds.

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over 6 years ago

who wrote this?